Kingsman: The Secret Service review
June 11, 2015

From the moment I saw the first poster for "Kingsman: The Secret Service," which showed the lower back half of a shapely lady mercenary with metal blades in place of feet, I knew I wanted to see the film. It looked like a high-action spoof of the old James Bond films, and the first trailer I watched showed a decidedly dapper Colin Firth demolishing a group of hoodlums in a pub. What's not to love?

Those early impressions established by the posters and trailer actually wound up being reasonably representative of the film itself, I found when I finally watched it once it became available on blu-ray this week. The movie is a sincere attempt to bring back the goofy charm of those old James Bond films, while filtering it all through a modern lens. Colin Firth isn't the only big star to lend his talents to the effort, either. There are also appearances from Mark Hamill, Samuel L. Jackson, and the legendary Michael Caine, along with strong performances from several newcomers.

From what I understand, the movie is based on a series of graphic novels called "The Secret Service," which were written and illustrated with the intent of turning the story into a film. There are a number of differences between the two takes on the same general story, but a lot of the key plot points appear to be the same. I know this all because I watched something like an hour and a half of special features after viewing the film. That's not something I would typically do, but by the time the final credits rolled, I was hooked.

The story begins in the late 20th century, with Harry Hart (Colin Firth) leading a special squadron that appear to be interrogating a terrorist somewhere in the Middle East. Things go wrong--quickly--and one of his fellows saves a lot of lives by throwing himself on an explosive device. Hart survives and his heroic comrade dies, of course.

Since Hart made the mistake that cost his friend's life, he takes the responsibility of delivering the bad news to the new widow and her young child. He hands her a locket and promises that all she has to do is call the number engraved on the back and mumble a nonsensical phrase into the telephone line and she can collect a favor. She replies that she doesn't want help. She wants her husband back. It's a stupid line, because she's asking for the impossible. Hart turns his attention to the son, and tells the toddler to "take care of your mother."

Something like 15 years later, we find that the boy (nicknamed 'Eggsy' and convincingly played by Taron Egerton) is doing just that… to the extent that she allows. She's now living with an abusive boyfriend, and between them they seem to have produced a new toddler. There's some definite tension between Eggsy and his mother's male friend, to put it mildly. At his mother's request, Eggsy leaves the house and heads into the night. He's looking to find trouble, and that much he manages quite admirably. The evening of hijinks ends with him locked in a police interrogation room, where he makes his one allotted phone call to the number on the back of his locket he has worn around his neck since childhood.

That phone call ends without much promise, until Eggsy is miraculously released from jail after facing the threat of 18 months behind bars. In the ensuing days, he gets to know Harry Hart, who was responsible for his unlikely freedom. Hart invites Eggsy to join his organization, which is looking for a new recruit to replace one of its members who recently got taken out of the game. With nothing better to do, Eggsy accepts.

From there, the movie goes through a number of fairly predictable scenes, as Eggsy learns the skills that might make him a good spy at some point, if he survives. He has rivals, a number of other hopefuls who are vying for the same position. It's all reasonably entertaining, though mostly predictable in a way that the rest of the film tends not to be. I was glad when it ended and the writers could focus on the good stuff.

That good stuff includes Samuel L. Jackson's performance as Valentine, an eccentric and wealthy man who has a novel new idea for combatting global warming. His solution would probably even work, but there's a little problem: it would also leave around 90% of the human population dead. This is a loss he is willing to accept, so it falls to Eggsy and his mentor to put a stop to the whole nefarious scheme. Along the way, Eggsy just might learn what it takes to be a real gentleman, because of course the movie is going to look at the topic of class. What story set in England in the last 20 years hasn't?

I'm making some snarky comments about the plot, but I can admit also that a lot of them are beside the point. "Kingsman: The Secret Service" is not a movie you're supposed to take all that seriously. You're not expected to stop and ask yourself if what you just saw amounts to good writing or great acting. The best question to ask is "Did that look cool?" And the answer, basically any time you might think to pose the query, is "Yes."

The action isn't non-stop, but there's a lot of it. And it looks cool. The quieter moments, when characters are just sitting around exchanging impossibly witty lines? Those look cool too, even though there's no reason they should. Director Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class, Layer Cake) has ample experience making stylish action flicks, and here he puts those skills to terrific use. There's one extended scene in particular that will likely stick with you, even if you forget the rest of the film. It features over-the-top brawling with unlikely combatants. Bodies come at the hero from every which way for minutes at a time, and somehow it all works.

Like I said, though, you're not really supposed to take any of it all that seriously. There are some plot twists that don't feel particularly credible to me, but I've decided I just don't care. The movie's too much fun to ruin it all by worrying overly much about continuity and logic, in much the same way as the older spy thrillers that inspired it. If you're ready to shut your brain off for a couple of hours and just enjoy the ride, you're in for a good time. And if you're not willing to take that step, well… you should probably just watch something else instead.

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pickhut pickhut - June 12, 2015 (07:45 AM)
When I started seeing trailers for this movie, I was a bit hesitant. Normally I'm all for quirky action movies as long as it's good, but I couldn't tell if it was being silly in a good or bad way. I might just check it out now after reading your take on it (though, I did skip some of your plot explanation so I would mostly go in blind).
honestgamer honestgamer - June 12, 2015 (06:01 PM)
Mostly going in blind is probably ideal, though I tried not to spoil anything important. There are lots of good scenes that are probably better if you have no warning they're coming, which is how I watched the movie. As my text hopefully makes clear, it's not a serious spy thriller. On the special features, the director observed that he likes the new Bond films, but he misses the old ones that were "fun." This movie was an attempt to make a fun secret agent flick, and I believe he succeeded.

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